Making sense of an aging life is a task most of us will face. If we do not die young, we will grow old. As we grow older, we have to face the new challenges in life and become people we never might have expected to be.
I had the opportunity to interview Joan Chittister, a nun who has authored many books. The book I interviewed her about is “The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully.” Joan Chittister says the later years are a gift and not a burden.
Erik Erikson, the late psychologist and professor, talked about the 65-plus group having to make the decision on how to live their lives as a struggle between “ego integrity versus despair.” He wrote that before many people lived into their 80s and 90s. Erikson called this post-65 stage of life the eighth stage of life. At that stage of life, he said, it is important to feel you have fulfillment by doing something significant and knowing you have lived your life to its fullest.
Whatever your politics, you can certainly look at Al Gore, who is now 69, as a model of someone who has ego integrity in his later years. Imagine campaigning for president and losing the election by a hair. How do you pick up and make sense of your life after that?
Al Gore has not only made sense of his life, but his later years have been filled with integrity. You might not agree with Al Gore’s conclusions, but you can’t disagree with him trying to do what he thinks is best for the world. By doing that, he is filling his later years with integrity.
Recently, just in time for a hot summer, Al Gore released his movie, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” This movie is the follow-up to the award-winning “An Inconvenient Truth.” He had off-the-record discussions with then-President-elect Donald Trump. Gore’s new movie says some of the events we have witnessed, including hurricane Sandy and the Zika virus, can be attributed to climate change.
When Al Gore has his morning coffee (I don’t really know if he drinks coffee), he can say to himself that he is making an impact. His new movie is not only geared toward his generation of baby boomers but also toward but the newest generations, including millennials and even younger Americans.
His new movie does not shy away from solar energy, even though India hasn’t really adopted solar energy in the way Al Gore would like. The movie addresses the melting ice caps, and Mr. Gore now discusses the president pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. Although, the right-wing press says, since the first movie, the predictions have not come true, Al Gore said in a television interview this week that even a small rise in the temperature of the earth’s climate could create havoc. In a very smart and obviously well-prepared answer to the question asked, he said an increase in a baby’s temperature of two degrees would cause alarm. That was a great analogy and was not lost on the audience.
The good news for Al Gore is that people are paying attention to his message. Cities and states are saying they will adhere to the agreement points in the Paris climate accord. It doesn’t matter to these cities or states what President Trump ultimately decides to do with the Paris agreement.
Al Gore has certainly grown older gracefully. He looks older, but his message is aimed at the younger generations. His life is exactly the kind of life Joan Chittister is writing about in her book. Her chapter on meaning quotes Cicero: “It is not by muscle, speed or physical dexterity that things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character and judgement.” In her chapter on accomplishments, she talks about how we can accomplish more from age and experience.
Al Gore did not make it to the White House, but by his age and experience, he may have influenced more lives and the ultimate longevity of the human race than if he had been president.
Sometimes we may mourn what we think we did not achieve only to find out that we have achieved more than we set out to. That is the life of Al Gore. He wound up doing something different than being president, and perhaps we are all better for it.
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